Ryne Nelson is a preseason all-American projected to go in the first round of Baseball America’s mock draft.
Those are lofty expectations for the junior right-hander who has a 4.17 ERA in 36 2/3 innings pitched during his two seasons at Oregon.
The 6-foot-3 Nelson filled a variety of roles for the Ducks during the past two season while waiting for his opportunity to join the starting rotation. Kenyon Yovan takes the mound for the season opener when Oregon visits eighth-ranked Texas Tech on Friday with Nelson to follow Saturday.
“This is what I have been working for,” Nelson said.
Nelson had an injury as a freshman that forced him to miss two months and limited him to 13 1/3 innings on the mound. Last year, he was Oregon’s starting shortstop who also replaced Yovan as UO’s closer when Yovan became a starting pitcher.
“It has been fun doing something new every year,” Nelson said. “It keeps things fresh and I have been pretty good at adapting to it.”
Nelson went 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA and four saves last season while batting .171 with seven RBIs. He is expected to focus strictly on pitching this season although coach George Horton hinted that Nelson could be used as a defensive replacement at shortstop late in games.
“It is definitely a different throwing schedule than I had before, throwing every day as a shortstop and then heading into the pen,” Nelson said. “It has been real nice to just focus in on my arm and body and not have to worry about hitting and taking ground balls.”
Nelson’s only career pitching start was a nonconference game at Oregon State as a freshman. He has never thrown more than three innings in a college game.
Nelson hit 99 miles per hour on the radar gun last year at PK Park as scouts tried to project him as a starting pitcher in the pros.
Baseball American ranks Nelson as the No. 11 college prospect in the Major League Baseball draft and projected him to go with the 25th pick to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The publication also selected him as a second-team preseason All-American.
“One of many college pitchers looking to prove themselves for the first time in starter’s roles this season, Nelson has arguably the biggest arm of any pitcher in the country,” Baseball America wrote.
“I can’t really control anything but how I go out and go about my business,” Nelson said as he enters his draft year. “Those are expectations I always had for myself anyways, so their expectations don’t really bother me much.”
Yovan and Nelson will be followed in the rotation by sophomore Cullen Kafka on Sunday and junior Cole Stringer on Monday. Horton said he will begin the season looking to sort out bullpen roles with junior left-hander Nico Tellache likely to begin the season as the closer.
Gabe Matthews returns at first base while third baseman Spencer Steer will move to shortstop to replace Nelson. Freshmen Max Foxcroft, Sam Novitske and Kyle Froemke will split time at second base and third base.
Sophomore Jonny DeLuca and freshman Tanner Smith are listed as starters in the outfield along with either freshman Vinny Tosti or junior-college transfer Taylor Adams. Senior Jakob Goldfarb has moved from the outfield to catcher as the Ducks prepare to visit the Red Raiders, who reached the College World Series last year.
“I like where my team is at as far as knowing how they play the game,” Horton said. “We get the opportunity every year to play against the best of the best. if you are a coach or an athlete and it is a top-five team, and they are ranked, I think anything less than looking forward to the challenge makes you wonder why you are here. These are the kind of series you look forward to as a coach or a player.”